In the ministry world, a question many clergy ask themselves is this one: if our church disappeared overnight, would the community around us miss it? Would the sudden disappearance of the building and ministries and faith community have an impact on the neighborhood? Or would life continue on unchanged for those who didn’t attend services at the church because the church’s focus was inward, on those who attend, rather than outward, on the community around them?
Congregations can do lots of great work exploring their identity as a community. Ivar helps churches do this kind of work with the rest of the College of Congregational Development team. One of the lessons the college teaches churches is to ask the people of the church, “Who do you say the church is?”
Equally important or even more important is the outward question: “Who do others say that we are? Would the neighborhood miss us if this church disappeared? And if not, what can we do to change this so that we are a blessing to our neighbors?”
For Jesus, of course, the questions were reversed. He asked his disciples first, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they rattle off some of the answers: Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah or another prophet. And Jesus followed up with a second, deeper question: “Who do YOU say that I am?”
Peter, of course, the impulsive and brave Peter, is the first to speak. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus blesses Peter, saying that God the Father has revealed this knowledge to Peter, who will become the rock upon which Christ builds his church. Peter’s answer might have been shocking to some of the disciples or considered blasphemy to many faithful Jewish people of their time, yet he risked answering truthfully.
Christ’s example models for us the importance of asking the questions that really matter.
Who do people say I am?
Who do YOU say that I am?
We could ask ourselves the same questions, both individually and as St. Luke’s. Who do people say that we are? Who do YOU say that we are? Who do we want to be?
This kind of self-reflection and identity work, both inward and outward, is so important. Christ did it and so must we. That’s exactly the purpose of the earlier question: If this church was to disappear tomorrow, would anyone notice?
And dear people of St. Luke’s, I can assure you that the answer for us is yes. Hungry people are fed here. Seeking people are welcomed here. Lives have been changed for the better here! Soon, this land will be the site of the first affordable family housing project built in Ballard for decades! If this place, this community, disappeared overnight, Ballard would miss us. St. Luke’s is doing what I sincerely believe all churches and faith communities can and should be doing– mattering in real, tangible, wonderful ways to our neighborhood.
You all have taught me so much. You’ve modeled for me what it means to be and do church in this modern world, and you kept doing it through a worldwide pandemic with barely a hiccup. Well done, good and faithful ones; you are truly creating Beloved Community here, both within these walls and outside of them. And I know you will continue to change lives just as you’ve changed mine, especially as the development project begins in earnest.
But, as many of you have already heard, my role in this story is changing. With both grief and delight, I’ve accepted a new call to be the full-time Vicar of St. Antony’s Episcopal Church in Silverdale.
Three years ago, when you and I began this journey, I felt so certain that God was calling me to serve primarily in hospitals as a chaplain while assisting other clergy in leading their parishes through supply or associate work. Doing that work, both here and at Swedish Health, has been one of the greatest honors of my life!
Thanks to all of you and the way St. Luke’s has inspired me, I feel ready for this new adventure! I have said over and over, “There is no place like St. Luke’s,” and that is and will always be true! But I hope to take the love for each other, for your neighbor, and for Christ that you modeled for me to St. Antony’s and bring a little piece of that St. Luke’s spirit to Silverdale!
My final Sunday with you will be September 17th, and my first with St. Antony’s will be October 8th. Until then, I look forward to celebrating with you and looking back on all we have done together!
And there’s so much to remember! It seems just days ago or perhaps decades ago that we first began our journey together in the middle of 2020 quarantine. Back then I felt so sure that I would always be called to serve in hospitals. And as the pandemic went on, it became harder and harder to see through the darkness of the grief and suffering, but each Sunday, I came here, to St. Luke’s, and there was light.
When my dear childhood friend Lee died of leukemia in 2012, I was 24 years old, angry at God and questioning everything I thought I knew about the divine and my faith, and I felt I had no one I could safely talk to about those feelings. In my first days interning as a hospital chaplain, I began to wonder if I could be that listener for others and help them to heal. In the end, the one who healed was me.
When I was a little girl, I job-shadowed my pastor. And as much as he loved it, he never asked me if I wanted to be a pastor. It just wasn’t something girls did in my old tradition. How I wish I could go back to that little girl and give her a glimpse of the future she never would have believed!
I know you will keep asking the important questions! Who do people say that St. Luke’s is? Who do you say St. Luke’s is? Who does God say that we can and should be? If we disappeared tomorrow, what story would we leave behind? These are the questions that matter, and I know that you will faithfully ask them just as I know you will faithfully continue to be a place where all people are welcomed, where all people can find food for their souls and drink the cup of new life.
Amen and amen! May it be so.